Rio Ferdinand is confident of being fit for England's second-round World Cup tie against Ecuador today - and of the defence tightening up on last Tuesday's 2-2 draw against Sweden which brought the first goals they have conceded in the tournament so far.
Having been taken off after 70 minutes of that game with a groin strain, Ferdinand took a full part in yesterday's training session at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion, where temperatures were in the 30s, as they will be this afternoon. There will therefore be only a substitute's role for Sol Campbell and for Jamie Carragher, who has been dropped along with Peter Crouch, to accommodate a 4-5-1 system with Owen Hargreaves at right-back, Michael Carrick in midfield and Wayne Rooney as the lone striker.
Rooney, who is still not fully match-fit following his metatarsal injury, will bear the brunt of the heat and is unlikely to manage a full 90 minutes.
England's tactical roller-coaster of a campaign changed course yet again on Friday morning when Sven Goran Eriksson took Carrick aside and told him he would playing in a competitive international for the first time, exactly five years and one month after his debut. The players then practised in that formation.
"He is a good footballer, a good passer, who reads the game well," Eriksson said. Carrick added: "This is what you work towards your whole career, to play in a World Cup. You get frustrated when you are not playing because everything is going on and you can't really do anything about it. In this formation, I would say that me being there gives Stevie [Gerrard] and Frank [Lampard] more licence to go and support Wayne up front and hopefully chip in with some goals."
There is sympathy all round for Carragher, a popular figure with his team-mates and the media, who has become the latest victim of Eriksson's unexpected transformation from Mr Nice Guy. Ferdinand's defensive partner John Terry, unusually shaky under the Swedish bombardment, admitted on Friday that the head coach had been "quite angry" after the game and "has certainly been raising his voice a lot more".
Hargreaves may have known what tactical plans were afoot when he answered a webcast question on the Football Association's site by saying: "I just want the team to stay successful and I will do my best in whatever role that may be." The change will have come as something of a shock, however, to last Tuesday's star man, Joe Cole; he had been singing Hargreaves' praises specifically as a holding player. "You need a ball-winner in there," he said. "I think he won more tackles in that game than any of us in the last two."
Ferdinand said: "There were a couple of set-pieces we didn't deal with, and that's normally bread-and-butter to us." And Eriksson admitted: "If we defend like that, I think we are in trouble, but I don't think we will."
He added: "The knockout stages are about courage. It is life or death. You stay in Germany if you win or you are back home if you lose. Yes, it is about courage. But all in our camp are extremely inspired by this. We know we have a good team, we know we have a good chance to go a long way in this World Cup.
"I've told them that this is a big chance, which may come again or may not. I've never ever thought it would be my last game. We will play good football and we will win." The chances of that will be improved if Ecuador's playmaker Edison Mendez does not recover from a hamstring strain.
Although the game does not start until 5pm local time, temperatures are predicted to be even warmer than against Paraguay, when the weather was blamed for England falling away in the second half. Players started taking in extra fluids yesterday and will continue to do so whenever possible during the game. As the day wears on, supporters back at home may feel in need of something stronger.Reuse content